The Gwich’in Tribal Council (GTC) on Thursday publicly expressed solidarity with the Sipekne’katik First Nation in Nova Scotia as Mi’kmaq and non-Indigenous fishers argue over the right to fish in the area.
In a news release on Thursday, the GTC stated it “supports the right of Indigenous groups such as the Sipekne’katik First Nation to exercise their inherent and constitutionally protected rights.”
On September 17, the First Nation in Saulnierville, NS launched a self-regulated and self-governed lobster fishery.
Traditional Mi’kmaq rights to hunt and fish on their lands in “pursuit of a moderate livelihood” are protected in the Peace and Friendship Treaty of 1752, re-affirmed by a Supreme Court ruling in 1999.
The fishery’s opening has caused tensions between Indigenous and non-Indigenous fishers and community members.
Non-Indigenous fishers say the fishery is illegal, despite the earlier Supreme Court ruling. They believe the fishery violates federal regulations, is open outside the dates of the ordinary season, and could hurt lobster stocks.
The First Nation says it has issued a handful of licences compared to more than a thousand issued by the established commercial fishery, and the new operation’s impact will be minimal by comparison.
Some existing commercial fishers have hauled up and dumped dozens of lobster traps belonging to Mi’kmaq fishers in recent days.
Mi’kmaq fishers say that action and other tactics, such as non-Indigenous fishers circling wharves where Mi’kmaq boats are anchored, amount to intimidation. One Mi’kmaq boat captured video appearing to show flares being fired in its direction while on the water.
On Thursday, recently elected GTC Grand Chief Ken Smith said the “Gwich’in people are appalled” at the situation in Saulnierville.
“The complete lack of respect for Indigenous rights and cultural practices being expressed by members of the commercial lobster fishery and local residents of the area is very concerning,” he stated.
As a treaty-holder itself, the release continued, the GTC “understands the significance of such agreements and constitutionally protected rights for our people and ways of life.”
Smith added: “The Gwich’in Tribal Council believes that any interference with the exercising of these rights by the Sipekne’katik First Nation is not only completely unacceptable but is also immoral and an infringement of their human rights.
“We hope that the parties involved can find a resolution in the near future that respects the rights of the Sipekne’katik as well as promotes greater understanding of these rights within the larger community in Eastern Canada. This is an opportunity for us to achieve the reconciliation that Canada desires and so desperately requires.”